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Warm Up with A Pilates Foam Roller: Getting Started

Updated on September 14, 2010
Mat Pilates is great fun and very effective if you practice it correctly.  One accessory that can make it even better is the foam roller.  By adding instability beneath you, the foam roller forces you to both pay attention to and work harder at maintaining your co-contraction (otherwise known as engaging your abdominal muscles).  By elevating your spine off the mat, you are also able to increase your range of motion, thus getting more out of quite a few Pilates exercises that might otherwise simply be done on a mat.  

Before you buy a foam roller and start using it, there are some factors to consider such as types of foam rollers, as well as the position in which you put yourself once you’re on the foam roller, and how you breathe on the foam roller, co-contracting on your foam roller, and doing basic pelvic bowl warm-ups.

Types of Foam Rollers

There are many different brands of foam roller out there, as well as different configurations and lengths.  For example, some foam rollers are only one or two feet long and others are only half of a foam roller- one side lies flat on the floor.  For these exercises, and for the greatest number of foam roller exercises out there, it is best to have a 36-inch foam roller.

Foam rollers come in varying levels of hardness.  If you have a sensitive back or are brand new to Pilates, I would recommend one of the softer kinds of foam rollers.  Otherwise, I would recommend a rather firm foam roller, simply because these make it harder to balance and are more effective at massaging your muscles when you roll your body across them.

Positioning Yourself on a Foam Roller

As I mentioned, many basic mat Pilates exercises can be done on a foam roller, but to do them correctly, you’ll need to be in the right position.  For the majority of these warmup exercises, you will want to be lying on the foam roller, with your head at the top, and your sacrum anchored to the bottom.

Always when lying supine on the mat, you will want to make sure that your important Pilates anchor points...
  • The base of your scull
  • Your shoulder blades
  • The base of your ribcage
  • Your sacrum
... are touching the foam roller.  With regard to your scapulae: you just want to make sure they’re low and relaxed, since they have no mat to touch.

Breathing on a Foam Roller

Breathing on a foam roller is the same as breathing on a mat- in a Pilates-conscious way, that is.  You must breathy in through your nose and out through your mouth like you’re fogging up a mirror.  Expand as you inhale into the sides and back of your ribcage and co-contract when you exhale.

The nice thing about doing this breathing on a foam roller is that you get nice tactile feedback.  As you inhale, you should try to visualize your ribcage wrapping around the foam roller as you breathe into the sides and back of your ribcage.

Co-Contracting and Pelvic Bowl Exercises

Co-Contracting on a foam roller is the same as on a mat, except you’ll have to do it more effectively or else you’ll find yourself wobbling around due to instability. To stay balanced on a foam roller, you need to keep your abdonimals solid. This provides a little extra workout as you go through your warm-up exercises!

Once you’re set up with your breath and co-contraction, start your warm-up with some simple pelvic bowl exercises. With these, you co-contract to use only your deep, inner abdominal muscles to tilt your pelvis toward your head (12:00) and toward your feet (6:00). Keep in mind that these movements should ONLY be initiated by your abdominal muscles; not by arching your back or pushing with your legs- that would defeat the purpose!

Once you have done these things, you are ready to start some basic warm-up exercises. There are many lovely ones to relax your shoulders, improve your posture, and massage your back. With some basic tips and a nice foam roller, your Pilates mat warm-up (and even more advanced exercises) can be made loads more effective- I hope you consider adding this accessory!


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    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks so much, tirelesstraveler! I hope you have as much fun with your foam roller as I do with mine!

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 6 years ago from California

      Started a hub on foam rollers and found your hubs. They are concise and useful. If I need an impromptu Pilates class I can just open to your video and work out. Amazing.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      EXACTLY. It has the effect of a foam roller or a stability ball in that it adds instability to your workout, forcing you to focus on engaging your core muscles, but is MUCH more fun! See the brilliance there? Ah-HAH!

    • stugod profile image

      Stuart Goddard 7 years ago from Bradford

      Still trying the gin workout I keep falling over ????

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh yes! Laptop warmups are much easier- and more fun:

      1. Take three swigs of gin

      2. Rub hands together

      3. Cackle mercilessly

      4. Repeat until desired state is reached

      It never fails me, I assure you.

    • stugod profile image

      Stuart Goddard 7 years ago from Bradford

      Looks too much like hard work to me. Do you have any laptop warm ups